Greenleaf Co-op closes after college’s permit blunder

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The student-run coffee cooperative at Guilford College closed at the beginning of the Spring 2015 semester after the school apparently botched the permitting process.

The Greenleaf Coffee Co-op had relocated to a new space in the basement of Milner dorm and opened there for the Fall 2014 semester, but was closed over the college’s winter break pending city approval. The city of Greensboro fined the college for not following the permitting process and co-op members have been left in the dark about what’s happening, the Guilfordian student newspaper found.

In a cover story article published today, staff writers Clare Forrister and Matthew Jones report that Guilford College applied for an initial building permit for interior demolition in July 2014 but did not apply for any other necessary permits for the space until last month. College Vice President Jon Varnell attributed the mix up to a change in plans once work began but admitted the college’s error.

“According to Varnell, the original plan would not require additional permitting,” the article reads.”‘The space was supposed to be left open (with) no new finishes going down,’ said Varnell. ‘We got into a lot more work related to plumbing and having to put a new panel in to support the electrical needs that were given to us. It just started to grow, so we knew we were going to have to come back to it.’
The school did indeed come back to it and began taking steps to fix the problem during the fall semester.
‘We went down and met with (the city) in the middle of the fall and said, ‘Hey, this is what we did; this is what the project looks like,’’ said Varnell. ‘They said ‘No problem.’ They said just submit it and we’ll look at it as soon as the break comes.’

‘We should have stopped the project and permitted it, right  then and there,'[Varnell said.] ‘And we didn’t do that. We chose project up and deal with it afterwards.’”

The Greenleaf in its new space last semester (Courtesy photo)
The Greenleaf in its new space last semester (Courtesy photo)

Read the full article here.

It is unclear when the Greenleaf Co-op will reopen, but it looks like it may be a while.

“Guilford [College] did not apply for another permit for the Greenleaf, including required electrical or plumbing permits, until Jan. 13, long after the shop opened [for the fall semester] and subsequently closed,” the article states.

One of the primary issues raised in the article is the occupancy permit for the coffee shop, and the Guilfordian uncovered a contentious relationship between campus Public Safety Director Ronald Stowe and Varnell on the issue.

“There was an occupancy certificate, I  looked at it, and it did not appear to be one that was issued by the city,” Stowe told the Guilfordian.

Varnell tells a different story, but the sign in question was taken down.

The Guilfordian's cover page
The Guilfordian’s cover page

“Our staff provided one, and then (Public Safety) turned around and tried to make it look like we were setting occupancy without the city which was not at all the case,” Varnell says in the article. “Public Safety raised an issue with the occupancy number, and then tried to hang it back on my staff, which was not pleasant and not right.”

Stowe’s response is even more interesting: “I’m looking out for the safety of the students in the campus because I think when you start monkeying with official documents that’s a concern. We’re serious about the job of keeping the campus safe. And sometimes, we might have to cross some people to do that.”

In addition, the two employees who directly oversaw the work and a former employee who had been involved in the permitting process all declined to comment to the Guilfordian. The two current employees, Varnell and Stowe could not immediately be reached for comment by Triad City Beat.

[Note: Triad City Beat Associate Editor Eric Ginsburg worked closely with Guilfordian staff for the last few weeks as they researched this article. The student newspaper’s faculty advisor, Jeff Jeske, also helped with the article and took TCB’s investigative journalism class during the article’s research phase. Guilfordian section editor Valeria Sosa contributed significantly to the reporting of this article.]